Micah 5: 2-4
2But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. 3Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. 4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.
Don’t you sort of wonder how God chose Bethlehem? It’s not a big city. In the big scheme of world power and wealth, it’s not really even on the map. It was not a seat of religion. It was not a big international port. It was not the scene of some great military conquest. In today’s terms, it doesn’t even have an airport. And on the real map, it’s a little less than 4 ½ miles from Jerusalem, which was not very convenient to Nazareth, another city in our story. Honestly, it’s a small, little-known place on the outskirts of what is happening. What a strange choice to pick to birth the Savior of the world!
Now, understand that the passage that we read did not originally associate this with the Messiah’s birth. The original writing was probably claiming a new Davidic king, one that would rule relying on the strength and wisdom of God. And to those in exile, those struggling to regain hope and identity and life itself, it seemed that the line of David was ending. In all likelihood, it probably seemed like life was ending. The gates of the city were bowing with the pounding of the Assyrian armies. Things were about to change. Darkness was seeping into their lives. And the prophet proclaimed that, regardless of what seemed to be, regardless of how the people saw themselves, the Light was indeed coming, even as unlikely as it seemed to be.
Truthfully, there’s not 100% agreement that these two Bethlehems are even the same. But I don’t think that really matters. Rather than honing in on the place, look instead at what God has done and what God continues to do. See, God does not always come to the places that we expect. God doesn’t always show up to those places that are prepared for God. In fact, it seems that God seldom obeys those rules of life that we have created. Thanks be to God! Over and over, God comes into the outskirts of civilization. Over and over, God comes into the places that we would rather forget, into the places of the displaced, the refugee, the places of homelessness and poverty and a world that doesn’t really have room, the places that are not prepared for God to come. And in the darkest corners of the world, God enters and Light comes to be. Because, really, if God only came to the places that knew God was coming, to the places that were cleaned and sanitized and ready for the maker of the world to enter, the places that were only filled with those who knew God was on their side or agreed with them or didn’t think they needed to change into who God thought they could be, then, really, why would we need God to show up at all? Instead, God comes to the displaced and the dis-placed. Interestingly, God raises places just as God raises people, taking the ordinary and the less-than-suitable and breathing holiness into it. Isn’t that amazing?
This year some of our normal places for Christmas Eve may be questionable. In a world of masks, social-distancing, and discouragement against gathering at all, many of us will be forced to spend Christmas in new ways and perhaps in new places. But, remember, God comes into those places that we don’t think are fit for God. Light comes into the darkness, whether or not the darkness recognizes itself. Light seeps into through the cracks and crevices of our carefully-constructed world that we have walled off to others and begins to make a home. Light comes uninvited into those places that have only known darkness as well as those places that never knew they were dark at all. Light comes whether or not we are ready, whether or not we’ve planned it, whether or not we have done what we should do, and Light makes a home in a manger or whatever else it will find and we will never be the same. So, this year, find yourself one of the dis-placed. Look around you. God is there. Light your candle and bring the Light of God into whatever place you find yourself to be.
Whoever does not see God in every place does not see God in any place. Rabbi Elimilech of Lizhensk, 1717-1787)
Grace and Peace,